By Bob Smietana
Leaders at one of the nation’s largest churches apologized on Wednesday for failing to take accusations against their founding pastor seriously.
When the allegations first surfaced in the Chicago Tribune, the church’s elders and Hybels labeled them as lies and collusion—organized by former staff members at Willow.
“The lies you read about in the Tribune article are the tools this group is using to try to keep me from ending my tenure here at Willow with my reputation intact,” Hybels told his congregation after the Chicago Tribune published the article.
“We have full confidence in Bill’s character,” Pam Orr, chair of Willow’s elder board, said at the time. “And we look forward to him continuing in his role as senior pastor until he transitions as planned in October of this year.”
Hybel resigned last month after the church became aware of more allegations against him.
The church’s elders then promised to do a more thorough investigation.
On Wednesday, the elders issued an update on their progress. That included an apology—and an acknowledgment that at least some of the claims against Hybels are true.
“The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light. We are sorry,” Orr told the congregation on Wednesday night.
“Initially, it was stated that the stories were all lies and the individuals involved were colluding against Bill. We apologize for those sweeping statements. We do not believe the stories were all lies or that all the people were colluding against him.”
Orr also said the elders believe “at least some of Bill’s choices were inappropriate.” She said elders are consulting with outside experts on how to proceed—and that they are reaching out to those who have made allegations against Hybels.
According to the elders’ update, the church is revising some of its policies about email retention and how men and women staffers work together.
“We will also continue to walk alongside Bill pastorally, and we will work closely with the (Willow Creek Association Board) to take appropriate next steps with him.”
After Orr’s announcement, teaching pastor Steve Carter prayed for the women who made allegations against Hybels.
“God, we’re thankful for the woman who shared their stories,” he said. “I pray that they would feel seen and known and heard by us.”
- Bill Hybels Resigns at Willow Creek Amid Misconduct Accusations
- Bill Hybels, Willow Creek and #MeToo: How Churches Should Respond to Accusations of Pastoral Misconduct
- When a Leader Falls: How Christians Can Get Back Up
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.